Mr Zachary Fletcher
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36b)
I’m not the first person to appreciate the theological insights that come from Tinder. It’s not so much the app itself – in fact, I should say, I no longer have Tinder. What I mean is, sometimes the experiences one has as a result of being on Tinder can be theologically enlightening. Let me explain.
Several years ago, I was on a Tinder date in L.A. The date began at Starbucks, and after a little while, my date wanted us to drive up in his Toyota Prius to one of his favorite scenic locations, a mountain with a great view of the skyline. Now L.A. is known for its horrible traffic, so I was thankful he was the one driving. At a certain intersection, we roll a bit too far forward of the white line. So my date decides, in a split second, to start backing up – without looking behind him. Within a few seconds, I feel a jolt. The Starbucks latte I’m holding splashes all over the window to my right. In that moment, I realize: we’ve just hit the vehicle behind us.
Oh no, I say to myself. This is a Tinder date gone awry. We know we have to pull over and interact with the person behind us whose vehicle we just hit. We may have to call the police.
So we pull over, dreading what’s likely to come next. The vehicle we hit is an imposing-looking Ford F-150. Its driver gets out, and starts walking towards us. He looks like he means business. I’m expecting anger, perhaps even some slurs. We roll down the window.
I will never forget what happened next.
The man stands there smiling at us, with not a hint of anger. As if reporting a miracle, he says, “There’s no damage! Don’t worry!” Beaming, he hands each of us a business card. “You’re welcome to come anytime!”, he says. It’s a business card for his church. And with that, the man heads back to his massive truck, gets in, and drives away.
I had been expecting the worst. But this Christian man, in his Ford F-150, who had every right to be angry with me and my date, caught us off guard with this act of forgiveness.
“Don’t worry!”, he said.
In today’s Bible readings, we see this same kind of unexpected, undeserved forgiveness. We first see it from Peter, though it may not be immediately obvious. Of course this passage from Acts is notorious. It’s easy to notice only Peter’s words of condemnation: “But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life…” These are harsh words, perhaps not entirely appropriate because chances are, these people Peter is talking to – the ones who just witnessed a crippled man be healed in the name of Jesus – probably had nothing to do with Jesus’ death, strictly speaking. They’re simply onlookers.
But if we remember that Peter is himself a Jew, addressing a crowd of his fellow Israelites, and if we remember that Peter himself denied Jesus three times, we can see that Peter’s condemnation comes back to include himself as well, not to mention us. That’s why we read the Passion story on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We rehearse this story to remind ourselves of our collective, human culpability for Jesus’ death.
And yet, this actually isn’t what Peter is focusing on here. Rather, he says, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus…” Peter is saying, Yes, Jesus died in this horrible way, but don’t worry! – God has taken this horrible death, and for no good reason except for his own goodness, “raised [Jesus] from the dead.” This is how God shows us his forgiveness, a forgiveness we never expected to receive.
Not only is God’s response to human brutality totally undeserved and unbelievable, but even more shockingly, Peter notes it was predicted all along, in the Hebrew Bible. Peter says, through Jesus’s resurrection, “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.” Yes, this horrible thing happened, but guess what – don’t worry, because God still came through in the end, simply because He said He would.
So when Peter says, “Repent, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,” it’s not condemnation, but rather an invitation to simply accept God’s free offer of forgiveness, shown by his Son’s resurrection.
Peter’s proclamation of God’s forgiveness points to what Jesus is doing in the Gospel reading from Luke. Now, since his disciples had basically abandoned him, Jesus had no good reason to appear to them again – except to show them that no matter what, he would not abandon them. When Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he means, “Don’t worry.” He’s already forgiven them for their unbelief, when he uses a piece of fish to prove to them he’s actually there. And he doesn’t stop there – Jesus, like Peter in Acts, explains it was all part of the plan. Despite humanity’s sinfulness, God destroyed sin once and for all. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” In other words, don’t worry.
Easter is a season of forgiveness. It reminds us not just of what Jesus has done for us, but of what we as Christians are called to do for others. Like Jesus’ disciples, we are empowered to extend forgiveness, not just to those that deserve it, but to everyone. Because Jesus empowers us to forgive, that means we’re invited to forgive even when we don’t feel like it. Even if our kindness is reduced by our natural human limits, the truth is, God’s kindness has no limits.
Perhaps this coming week, you’ll choose to forgive someone for something. It could be anything, big or small. Maybe you’ll be sitting at an intersection, and someone will carelessly back into you – and after seeing your vehicle is undamaged, you’ll invite them to Christ Church. In any case, your act of forgiveness will be pointing them to the One who has already forgiven us, the One who continually tells us, “Don’t worry.”